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NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio Wants To Help Theaters Reopen By September 2021

Stage Directions • Industry NewsTheatre Buzz • March 26, 2021

March 25, 2021 – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at his daily briefing that he expects Broadway and off-Broadway theaters will reopen in September of 2021, six months from now. Broadway has been dark since March 12, 2020 and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearby restaurants, hotels, and local businesses are losing billions while the theater district is dark. The theaters are a major tourist draw for New York City and key to its revival, generating 100,000 jobs and an economic impact of $15 billion a year, noted the mayor, saying, “We’ve got to lay the groundwork for a strong comeback for Broadway and off-Broadway. Our theater community needs it. … our city needs it, too. It’s part of our identity.”

Over the next four weeks, New York City plans to set up dedicated COVID-19 vaccination sites specifically for Broadway theater workers, adding that he hopes to reach off-Broadway workers as well with a mobile vaccination unit for off-Broadway. “This is going to be a year to turn things around, and our artists, our cultural community are going to lead the way,” de Blasio commented. “We’ll do everything in our power to bring Broadway back big and strong. We have to get the theater community ready for the fall.”

The mayor also stated that the city plans to open COVID testing sites near theaters, and will work with theaters to set more detailed guidelines for handling crowds before and after shows. But he noted that actually opening Broadway theaters with these proposed safety measures still requires the approval of New York state. “We will propose our own ideas to the state, but we need them to take action,” he said. “To put together a Broadway show is a huge endeavor, so they need guidance now.”

The return of tourists to NYC is important since they comprise the majority of Broadway audiences and Broadway shows are a major draw of tourist to NYC. According to the Broadway League’s demographic report for the 2018–2019 season, Broadway shows welcomed 14.8 million admissions with 65% being tourists of which 46% from the US (outside the NY metro area) and 19% from other countries. It is a symbiotic relationship that is essential to the city’s economy, leading de Blasio to state, “Broadway needs to come back, and we will move heaven and earth to bring Broadway back.”

In February, a new report from the New York State Comptroller’s office showed the devastating toll that the shutdown had on Broadway, as well as the entire New York City arts, entertainment and recreation. As of December 2020, arts, entertainment and recreation employment declined by 66 percent from one year earlier, the largest decline among the City’s economic sectors. It further noted that “This sector is the only major employment sector in New York City that remains below half of its pre-pandemic employment levels. The operations of arts and recreation businesses have been severely limited by restrictions on congregate venues to manage public health risks. ”

Capacity restrictions on NYC theaters when they are able to reopen is the biggest variable as of now. Under current NY state guidelines, theaters are allowed to be open at 33% capacity, with a maximum of 150 people who’ve presented negative COVID-19 tests. However, these levels don’t make financial sense for most shows, certainly not for Broadway houses, to be able to open and even cover production costs.

Actors’ Equity Association issued the following statement in response to Mayor de Blasio’s announcement that the city will make dedicated vaccination and testing sites available for arts workers to support more theaters beginning work again. “Today’s announcement is an important recognition from the City of New York that a strong theatre industry means a healthy, strong economy,” said Mary McColl, executive director of Actors’ Equity Association. “Mayor de Blasio clearly understands that we cannot socially distance in our work, making the availability of vaccines and testing critical for maintaining a safe workplace. We have been having conversations with the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment about safety on a regular basis throughout the pandemic. It is clear that we were heard and the city is pushing forward-looking policy changes that will serve the entire theatrical community. We are grateful for the leadership of Mayor de Blasio.”

Here’s the video of the full press conference:

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